Monday, June 29, 2009

The Pomodoro technique first impressions

Hold on. *sound of winding, now a quiet ticking in the background* I am a born procrastinator. I've got a fabulous talent of nearly doing stuff but then just looking at something else that is slight related. It's a talent that I've honed over the years and I am proud to say when it comes to not quiet getting things done, I've cracked it.
However this talent of mine is not seen as such by my employers, partners or friends. They often get frustrated that whilst I'm polishing the cat or trying to create extravagant latte art, I should be doing X. So in an attempt to placate the angry mob, I have been looking at was to keep my wandering attention under control.


The first thing I tried was the eat that frog approach. The idea is to do the worst/biggest priority thing on your list first because once you've done that you'll feel better. However the biggest thing for me always seemed too big to do. I didn't break it up. Also the todo list was growing bigger and bigger. So I wouldn't add to it until I had cleared enough items off. This was worse that ever! At least with my method of doing all the little things first something was getting done. Now nothing was happening!

Getting things done

Then I thought I would read Getting Things Done but the big problem about that book is that its long and dry and yes I never got around to finishing it. The main point was that all this stuff is piling up in your head causing you to function sub optimally. So either Deal with it, Defer it, Delegate it or Delete it. Then there is some complicated filing system, blah blah blah... ooh look a cat on the internet!

The trouble is that I'm like a goldfish or a pigeon or whichever one gets distracted easily (forcing myself not to search wikipedia for said beast). What I needed was a short, sharp, shock some clear instructions and I think I've found it.

Tomato Time

Whilst on a yak-shaving hunt brring. Ok back in 5 mins.

Tomato Time

So as I was saying on whilst on a yak-shaving hunt I discovered a blog entry Pomodoro Technique in 5 minutes and because I had nothing better to do I read it. It seemed so simple.

All you need is

  • some paper

  • a pencil

  • and a timer
The idea is that you time box your work into 25 minute periods (pomodori). Even if you finish early you must continue with that task until the time is up(over learning). Once you have finished a pomodoro you put an x next to it on your sheet of paper, take a 5 minute break and then choose to continue or pick another.

First Attempt

Did I tell you I was easily distracted? Well I am. In this pomodoro (I'm writing this blog with) I've nearly wandered off into cyberspace twice. My first Pomodoro was not successful I managed two glorious minutes of unadulterated concentration.


Someone was talking in the office an I went and googled something related to the conversation and then ended up joining in. Wow that's just embarrassing but it is the first step. I realise 10 minutes in that I've interrupted myself. I take 5 minutes and start the timer again.

Second Attempt

The two minute mark comes and goes my mind is trying its hardest to jump to something else. My task involves some problem solving and I want to do something else, anything else other than knuckle-down. I almost feel like I am craving for distraction, like I would crave for a cigarette. Its mind-over-twitter right now for me and I continue checking the clock every 2 or 3 minutes or so. Who knew that 25 minutes on one thing could be so difficult? At last the timer rings. I get a few strange looks from my work colleagues but I am triumphant. I mark an x next to my task.

End of first day

There are 7.5 hours in my working day. So I should be able to do 13-14 pomodori a day. I've achieved 5. I think I should feel discouraged but I don't. I can see what I wanted to achieve and how much time I've spent uninterrupted on it. I feel control.
Its time to reflect. What have I gained from from breaking up my day in to smaller pieces?

I just didn't realise how much I suffered from interruptions (both internal & external). I regularly get rung up, emailed or called out from doing my main task. It's part of my job but there's the other side of completing original tasks too. I need to find a balance for these. Internal interruptions are a factor too. I find it easier to get up and make a cup of tea than sit-down and just think. I use things like the kettle as a crutch.

People on the whole don't mind being asked to wait until later. When someone does ring up I can polite tell people I'll get back to them and there is no fuss.

Writing down how much time you have spent on a task gives you a clear record. With all the interruptions you may feel you have spent a couple of hours on a task but if you have been distracted it is not quality time.

There's more...

There is more about the Pomodoro Technique than I've mentioned in this post specifically in terms of record keeping and process improvement. They are important but not a requisite to first attempt the Pomodoro Technique.


Andrew Rimmer said...

Great post John!

Your story pretty much mirrors mine. I would have ended up reading pigeon and goldfish information on Wikipedia too without following Pomodoro :)

BJ said...

I want to try this but I don't think I have your focus.